R505: the Flying Cloud

Episode 44: A Meeting with Michaelson

Pierre planting the transmitter

"Michaelson must be growing annoyed," said MacKiernan as the Flying Cloud droned south above the waters of the Coral Sea. "He keeps sending us to some backwater and we keep ending up in the thick of things. Pirates, hijackers, secret Russian bases... this has not been an ordinary mission." Left unmentioned was the havoc Miss Helga had wrought among the crew.

"I've been wondering about this sequence of events," said Captain Everett. "It seems too unlikely for chance."

The Exec raised his eyebrows. "You think Michaelson knew something was going on and sent us there to find it?"

"It's possible," said Everett.

"But..." the Irishman fell silent. No one needed to be reminded that the senior captain of the Cairns Royal Air Station was their avowed enemy, and had tried to prosecute them for piracy after they'd captured their current vessel from German arms smugglers.

"The man has a reputation for subtlety," mused Everett. "He could be playing a very deep game. He could even be playing several games. I'd like to have another look at that island where we spotted his yacht."

"That should be it up ahead," called Iverson from the helm.

"Right on schedule," said Everett. "We shall take this opportunity to deply a ground party."

They took a position above the atoll and maintained station while Everett rode the Transporter hoist down the beach. He returned looking thoughtful.

"Sir?" asked MacKiernan.

"Set a course for Cairns so we arrive after Michaelson's office is closed. We'll need some time to prepare for our meeting with the good captain."

Jenkins checked the electrolyte levels, attached the battery leads, and flipped the toggle. After a few moments, the vacuum tubes began to glow. He tapped the microphone, listened to his headset, and nodded in satisfaction.

"I imagine one day they'll make these things more compact," he observed as he closed the case, "but this should be adequate for our purposes. Of course, we'll have to find some way to hide it in Michaelson's office."

Pierre seemed unperturned by the prospect. "This should not be a problem as long as you can provide a suitable distraction."

"Leave that to me," said Everett.

A short time later the three men filed into Michaelson's presence. The senior captain glanced up as they entered. His malice was palpable. "So, Captain Everett," he observed in a voice dripping with sarcasm. "You've been a busy man."

Everett met his gaze evenly. "We followed the letter of our orders."

"With a few additions," snapped Michaelson. "I don't recall anything about investigating the coast en route to Darwin, or taking a jaunt into the Timor Sea."

"The orders specified times and destinations," Everett observed. "They were... peculiarly vague regarding other matters. And I wonder about some of our encounters. You send us on what appears to be a meaningless mission to an unimportant corner of Australia where nothing ever happens, but along the way, we run into acts of piracy, murder, kidnapping, stolen cargo, a mysterious airship that doesn't answer signals and flees when we approach, and finally, an abandoned settlement of Russian scientists that appears to have been attacked and plundered by some renegade German conspiracy -- this last discovery, I might add, occurs as a consequence of your specific orders to head in that direction. There's another mystery as well. I couldn't help but notice your yacht that day in the practice area."

"The salvage crew was able to right her," growled Michaelson. "Your recklessness has already gone on record."

"Has it?" asked Everett. "When the vessel should never have been there in the first place? I took the liberty of going down to investigate the island where you'd anchored, and found this." He tossed a squashed white stub onto the desk.

"And what is this?"

"A cigarette butt. A Geisling, to be precise. Common in Germany, but quite rare in this part of the world. There were also a number of bootprints in a German naval pattern, a matchbook printed with the advertisement for a German opera house, and a scrap of parchment in an unfamiliar cipher."

Michaelson started forward, then sighed. "I was wondering where that had got to. Heinrich must have dropped it."


"Korvettenkapitan Johan Heinrich, His Imperial Majesty's Secret Service."

Now it was Everett's turn to raise an eyebrow. "You had dealings with this... agent?"

The senior captain drummed his fingers on the desk. "Understand," he said at last, "that this information is strictly confidential. Breathe a word of it outside this room and I'll see your heads roll. As you may know, our `friends' in Germany are of two minds about the War..." he paused. Both men had seen things in that terrible conflict that they'd prefer to forget. "Most welcomed President Wilson's peace, but others feel that their nation was betrayed, and seek to redress the balance.

"One of these nationalists groups is active in the Pacific. The Kaiser has no resources here so his government has requested our help. I have no idea what is at stake, but it appears the matter is so serious that Whitehall has instructed us to cooperate. We can hardly do this openly -- particularly when the Germans are still technically in a state of war with our French allies -- so we have resorted to subterfuge. Hence my instructions to you."

It took Everett little effort to draw the obvious conclusion. "I assume these renegade nationalists are the pirates."

"You are correct," said Michaelson. "They grow increasingly audacious. They took a packet, the L-137, from under the nose of the Dutch governor in Kupang. That must have been the vessel you encountered over the Timor Sea."

"What did you think," Everett asked his companions after they got back to the ship.

"It seemed superficially plausible," said Jenkins, "but it also seemed too pat."

"I would agree," said Pierre. "His delivery was polished, as if it had been rehearsed. A man in my profession must be sensitive to such things."

"Is the transmitter working?" Everett asked Jenkins.

The signalman passed him the headset. Through it he could hear the senior captain puttering around his office.

"What if Michaelson finds the radio?" asked Iverson. "Will he trace it back to us?"

"That's unlikely, the way it was hidden," said Everett. "But even if he does, the unit is of Russian manufacture. That should throw him off the scent."

"Where did Jenkins get a Russian transmitter?"

"That was my contribution," said Pierre. "I had to steal something from the police chief's office in Darwin, to make my intrusion look like a simple burglary. I found this sitting on one of his shelves."

Next week: Bright Harbor Lights...

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